Vodafone and China Mobile said they had withdrawn from the process to award two telecoms licences in Myanmar, although the operators have not ruled out a participation in future opportunities in the country.
The Vodafone-China Mobile consortium was among 12 short-listed applicants due to submit their final bid to the Myanmar authorities on June 3, but the companies said just ahead of the deadline that they had decided not to proceed "as the opportunity does not meet the strict internal investment criteria to which both Vodafone and China Mobile adhere."
A report in the Daily Telegraph linked the withdrawal to concerns over human rights issues in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Investors should be wary, Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, told the Telegraph. "There are supposed to be new telecoms laws in June but nobody has seen them," he said. "They are meant to talk about the rights of users and operators around things like government surveillance. All that is unclear right now."
The aim of the government is to increase the number of operators from two to four in order to boost telecoms penetration. According to Bloomberg, mobile penetration is less than 10 per cent of the around 64 million people in the country. The government has said it wants to boost telecoms coverage to as much as 80 per cent of the population by 2016.
A report published by Ericsson on the Myanmar market last year also stressed how access to mobile communication could also play an important role in enabling basic human rights and driving increased transparency in society, as well as boosting employment and economic growth.
Vodafone and China Mobile said they will continue to watch Myanmar's progress with interest and will give due consideration to any future opportunities that would meet the companies' investment criteria.
Separately, Qatari operator Ooredoo recently said it plans to make a bid for the Myanmar licence "because it may be "one of the last untapped markets," according to Bloomberg.
Ooredoo also recently raised $12 billion to finance its bid for a majority stake in Maroc Telecom, but said it had alternative plans in place to grow its business if the bid should fail, including improving broadband access in markets such as Iraq and Indonesia, according to Dow Jones Newswires. Ooredoo is competing with Etisalat for Vivendi's 53 per cent stake in Maroc Telecom.
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